Recycled gadgets may be popular gift items this year, as cost-conscious adults wrestle with both challenging budgets and their children’s burgeoning appetites for technology.
Is This Thing On?, or ITTO, is our Wednesday column showing how everyday people use technology in unexpected ways.
A PBS survey of parents of 2-to-10-year-olds found kids will be cheerful recipients of a second-life device, whether it is a smartphone or a laptop. More than half of parents surveyed said they’d pass down computers, and more than two-thirds plan to pawn off mobile devices this holiday season. A child may certainly be thrilled with regifted iPhone 3GS, which may also take the financial sting out of a parent’s new 4S.
However, regifting mobile devices poses unique issues, chief among them the recipient’s age and the appropriate level of accessibility, as well as preparing the device for younger users.
The appropriate age for a smartphone is a hot topic. For example, a recent online survey discovered most parents believe children should not get a smartphone until age 16, while others think the device is perfectly fine for a child in grade school.
Regardless of the age of the recipient, most smartphones can be modified to limit their capabilities, depending on the child’s age, to alleviate most parental concerns. According to PBS Kids, parents should erase existing data on a regifted device, clean it of any content like personal files and credit card information, perform an application sweep and clear out any browser cookies.
Then, parents may tackle the sometimes daunting task of creating an age-appropriate electronic environment, but device and app makers have made the job easier with a variety of settings and software.
Apple offers parental controls on all its iOS devices under the Settings > General > Restrictions section of the phone. From there, parents can choose to restrict a variety of applications and features like YouTube, Camera — which also disables FaceTime — iTunes, app downloads, in-app purchases and movies, to name a few. Also, parents can restrict Internet access by disabling the Safari browser.
Google also builds tools and controls, like SafeSearch, YouTube Safety Mode, and Android Market Rating system, into its products to help manage the online experience. The company provides information to explain how to use the product controls, which are often passcode-protected to keep children from altering them.
In cases where the restricted setting is an all-or-nothing experience, computer software, as well as apps and services for mobile devices, help maintain a measure of control concerning appropriate content while still allowing children to enjoy the device’s capabilities.
“Net Nanny” is an example of a customized browser that can be used on laptops, computers, and other devices within the home. The Web browsing software locates, retrieves and displays content that is filtered by categories like profanity, sexual content and several other criteria.
For mobile devices, Retina-X Studio’s “PhoneSheriff” app lets parents monitor kids’ texts, calls, applications and websites by either logging into a Web page or accessing a hidden interface on the phone itself for a $50 annual subscription fee.
Parents can use the product to restrict any app or website they deem unfit, set time limits for certain activities, as well as block calls and texts to and from certain numbers. The app also lets parents view their children’s locations via the Instant GPS Locate command, which also works as an anti-theft device as well.
Famigo’s SandBox app makes any Android phone or tablet child-friendly, taking some of the worry out of giving kids smartphones by granting access only to apps known to be kid-friendly, as well as those parents approve for their children’s use. It also prevents children from accessing the Web, making calls, clicking on ads, making purchases or sending texts or emails while the product is activated.
SandBox has more than 8,000 users in its beta program, and the app works on more than 500 different devices, including Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet. The app may be particularly useful for devices shared between family members.
An important reminder about filters is that they are not a substitute for parental supervision. These products have at times failed to filter out all inappropriate sites, and can be vulnerable to glitches or deliberate circumvention, which can lead to a false sense of security.
Ultimately, parents can teach children to use devices responsibly and also give a still-working device a much appreciated second life. Mother Nature will decide whether this Christmas will be white, but parents can save a lot of green this holiday season with a little ingenuity.